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Demystifying the federal criminal justice system

Federal drug charges are serious matters that can mean you are facing a lot of time in prison. If you are facing these, you need to learn about the federal criminal justice system because there are some differences between it and your local courts.

Here are some important things for you to remember about this court system and how it operates:

  • Crimes have to meet specific criteria to be charged on the federal level. Many crimes can be prosecuted under state laws, so the federal government will defer to the states for prosecution. This is considered on a case-by-case basis and depends on the circumstances.
  • Investigations for federal criminal matters can involve authorities from other jurisdictions, including state and local agencies. Once the investigation is complete, a determination can be made about how to proceed with charges.
  • People arrested by federal authorities will have their initial appearance in court within 72 hours of the arrest. This is followed by a bail hearing and an arraignment.
  • Many federal cases are resolved through the use of a plea deal, which requires the defendant to forego a jury trial. They will plead guilty or no contest to specific charges in exchange for a specific sentence or range. The judge must approve the plea deal.
  • If a jury trial is necessary, the jury is chosen in two phases, in some cases. The first phase is to determine the general suitability of the potential juror. The second is the death qualification phase in which the prosecution can excuse people who don't believe in the death penalty if it is a possible sentence for the crime.
  • When a person is convicted of a federal charge, the sentencing phase will come later. The convicted person and the victim have the right to be present. Both sides can present a case for this phase before the court decides on the sentence.
  • Appeals of federal convictions are possible as long as the case wasn't resolved through a plea deal. Plea agreements usually require a defendant to waive their right to appeal the matter.

There are some procedural differences with the federal court system. Working with a lawyer who is familiar with these might be beneficial since they can help you to prepare for what is to come. This is especially important when you are facing considerable penalties, such as lengthy incarceration periods.

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